The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has made no order against a trainee who admitted claiming time for work which she had not done and ordered the Solicitors Regulation Authority to pay most of the costs of the failed prosecution.
Michelle Louise Craven was accused of dishonesty and a lack of integrity by the SRA after she falsely added time to a bill recording system in the final seat of her training contract. According to the SRA, Craven overcharged clients by a total of £2,991.50 for 20.2 hours of work that was not carried out.
Craven, who was working at Cheshire-based MLP Law Limited at the time, admitted claiming time for work which she had not got around to but denied dishonesty and any breach of principle.
Addressing the tribunal as a litigant in person, Craven said she had been suffering from workplace anxiety because of ‘excessive working hours’ and ‘unrealistic deadlines’, adding that her colleagues in the wills, trusts and probate department were ‘oppressive and unapproachable’.
‘They should have known the stress they were putting me under by offloading their work on me', Craven said.
She added that there was a culture of anticipatory billing in her department, which was denied by a former partner who was called as a witness. Andrew Bullock, for the SRA, said: ‘If that culture did exist, and we do not accept that it did, then she should simply have declined to join in.’
The tribunal found the admitted factual allegations proved but did not find that Craven was dishonest or had breached any SRA principles. No order was made, however Craven was asked to pay fixed costs of £3,000.
Earlier this year, the Junior Lawyers Division said it has lost confidence in the SRA to fairly prosecute young solicitors whose judgement is clouded by pressures of work, and demanded an immediate review in its approach to handling junior lawyers who report mental health issues or a toxic working environment.
The criticism follows the high-profile prosecution of recently-qualified Claire Matthews, who lied to cover her mistake of leaving sensitive documents on a train. Matthews was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal but has given notice she will appeal, supported by lawyers working pro bono.